Bio-Waste & Agriculture #2: The Wonderful World of EU Recycling Targets

Produced by Camille Duran / Published by Gabriela Lemos Borba / Coordinated by Han Nguyen / Transcribed by Tuly Sarah Costa / Music Credits: License by Ins. Green White Space Photo by lynampics/CC BY

We are on a bio-waste hunt. In search for carbon-nitrogen feedstocks, we review the Waste & Recycling part of the recent EU Circular Economy package with guidance from Ferran Rosa, Policy Officer at Zero Waste Europe (Brussels). We ask incineration facilities about their plans to extract bio-waste from the furnaces and vision 2030, and finally close the episode on the Anaerobic Digestion process and proper digestate management practices.

Dan Noble (ACP, California) comes back on the show to share a few magic comments that will help us start our next episode debate on the good foot.

Note: This episode features a short segment with Pashon Murray, founder of Detroit Dirt. The segment was produced by Ford Motor Company for a 2015 ad campaign. However, please note this featuring is a non-commercial.


Circular Materials Conference is the international conference – completely cross sector with representation from the basic, chemical and recycling industries, manufacturers, retailers and resource recovery experts and the academic world. The third conference aims to bring together experts on circular economy, recycling specialists including manufacturers, collectors, processors, steelmakers, legislators and policy-makers as well as academic scientists, researchers and research scholars to exchange and share their experiences and research results about all aspects of circular economy, recycling and environment.
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Transcript from the Episode

Camille Duran (CD): Chapter 2 Ready to dive in –

If you haven’t heard the first chapter of this series about Bio-Waste & Agriculture, go check it out first so you can follow the story.

It’s called Healthy Soils and The Carbon Quest – you’ll find it on our site or in your favourite podcast app.

Before we start to boom shake, shake, shake the room, I’d like to mention a very promising event: The Circular Materials conference 2016 in Gothenburg, Sweden on May 10th, 11th and 12th. We’ll be there too. This event will review the latest industrial and scientific progress in Circular Use of Materials; there is a very impressive list of guest speakers, an exhibition and exciting activities around the sessions. You’ll find information on our episode page or you can directly visit the website at

We hope to see you there.

We’re now entering – The wonderful world of EU Recycling targets. That’s the title of Chapter 2.

Fire! Let’s go!




CD: Let’s go to Belgium, Brussels. In our episode about Circular Economy last year, we were expecting the EU Circular Economy package and discussing the level of ambition we should expect. This policy package finally came out in December and don’t worry; we’re going to talk circular economy in extensively this year.

In the meantime, we have Ferran Rosa on the line. Ferran is Policy Officer at Zero Waste Europe and he is going to help us understand the recycling part of this Circular Economy policy package.

Ferran Rosa (FR): Hello

CD: Hi Ferran.

FR: Hi, how are you?

CD: I am good. Thanks for being with us.

FR: Yeah

CD: So a few interesting targets coming up, can you give us the basic pitch on the waste & recycling side?

FR: Ok, so the circular economy package will review all the existing legislation on the waste at the European level, so it will affect definitely all the EU countries. The proposal from the Commission it is currently pushing for a 65% recycling rate by 2030, and when it comes to bio waste it is pushing for mandatory separate collection of bio waste.

CD: Ok so all municipalities in Europe will have to recycle 65% of their waste. For those of you who are new to the topic, a recycling rate does not include incineration of waste or landfilling of waste. By the way, landfilling of waste will need to be limited to 10% in EU countries.

FR: These are the core obligations when it comes to targets but of course the revision of legislation calls also to promote prevention policies to promote preparation to reuse, etcetera. So the circular economy package comes within wider or broader set of measures that will be presented in 2019 and these years to transform the whole European economy into circular economy.

CD: And we have a little bit of a problem here in Sweden & Denmark. As you know, we burn a lot of waste, 50-55% of the total municipality stream.
So I am wondering, how do you think this this going to play out?

FR: So as I said, there is a 65% of recycling target and maximum 10% landfilling, which will put some countries in pressure and some countries still have quite a lot of landfills. So they will feel obliged to reduce landfilling. But for some other countries like Scandinavian countries, it would create another type of pressure, which will make them close down the incinerators. There are some countries like Denmark, which is burning 55% of municipal waste, and still importing waste from other countries. They will have to shut down the incinerators otherwise there’s no way they can meet EU targets.

CD: Yes because if we do the math they will be able to burn only 20-25% max of the waste stream, which is still pretty bad in a green city, so to say.

But you know I think we should give a call to a couple of incineration facilities, right now, to find out how they are going to react or ask if they feel threatened by the EU legislation. They may not fully grasp it yet but it could be good to get their reaction.

FR: Okay.




CD: And the reason why this is interesting for our episode here is that a lot of the waste being burnt is bio-waste. And you remember in our first chapter, that’s a lot of the CARBON we’re looking for to green up agriculture and repair our soils.


CD: Ok Ferran, stay on the line; let’s see if they pick up… Just as a side note we keep the call anonymous because we haven’t asked for permission to publish this and they didn’t know it was media calling. We even tweaked their voice a little bit to hide their identity, but this was in the Scandinavia.

[Voice 1]: Hi, this is ***

CD: Hi there, this is Camille Duran in Malmö, I am currently studying Waste management & Circular Economy, doing a bit of research. I am looking here at the new European targets, and it says we’re going to need to be recycling 65% of municipal waste streams by 2030. Today we incinerate 50% or 55% – according to Eurostat 2014. So mathematically by 2030 we need to reduce incineration down to 20 or 25%? How are we going to do that? That’s what I am researching right now.

[Voice 1]: That’s a very good question. We are not so concerned on the regional basis for our company today because, first of all, it’s a long-term perspective. There is so much going to landfills in EU still. We feel that we have fuel, because it’s quite close to take waste by boat from England or wherever today.

And we have landfill levels for…Poland still have 80% of landfills, Romania have 98% of landfills and Bulgaria have 98% of landfills. So, we see that it there’s plenty of waste to be incinerated in the future, for us as a company. But of course, for Sweden, as a nation, it’s interesting to see, how we can higher the amount of recyclable materials.

CD: Ok, and if you have to close down a furnace or two in the future what happens?

[Voice 1]: Of course it will make little bit less money than now. We maybe find out other business concerning recyclable material and so on. So as a company we don’t see it as a big threat yet.

CD: Thanks for your help.

[Voice 1]: No problem. Bye and good luck.


CD: This hurts me so bad Ferran. Let’s call another one and you tell me what you think while it’s ringing.


FR: The problem that we see is that instead of decreasing the amount of waste they are burning, they will just decrease the amount of national waste they are burning. So they will probably import waste from the other EU countries so as not to shut down the incinerators. Which in my opinion, it is not only against the principles of proximity of treating waste but it also is against the whole logic of rational policy.

You have done a bad investment. You have over investment facility, and instead of saying, “ok we f**ed it up. We have messed it up. Let’s close down the incinerator, let’s shift to better ways of treating our waste.” Instead of doing this, they are saying, “ok, don’t worry Bulgaria, you just have to close down the landfill and send it over five thousand kilometres away”, or two thousand, or whatever. That’s the risk.

CD: Yeah but ultimately all EU countries will have to comply. So then we’ll probably burn the waste from Russia, very green.


CD: Hi there, this is Camille Duran in Malmö, I am doing a bit of research and I have a couple of questions, could you please connect me to someone from the technical team?

[Voice]: Just a second. One moment.


CD: [To Ferran] Let’s try to ask them for bio-waste specifically

FR: Ok


CD: Hi there this is Camille Duran in Malmö, I am currently studying Waste management & Circular Economy, doing a bit of research, and I am looking here at the new European targets, which say that separate collection of bio-waste is going to become mandatory. I am wondering what is going to happen at incineration facilities if we start to collect the bio waste separately and start to compost this bio-waste instead of burning it?

[Voice 2]: Yes but we are not collecting it separately.

CD: Yeah, but you’re going to have to very soon, no?

[Voice 2]: No, no.

CD: And how are you going to meet the 65% recycling targets without considering bio-waste?

[Voice 2]: Yeah, we are collecting different things like paper and garbage from the household separately. We are trying to recycle plastic, glass, paper and so on.

CD: And bio-waste?

[Voice 2]: We burn it.

CD: OK. Well, thanks for your help.

CD: So Ferran, we suggest that let’s dig into this last point here, if you’re still alive after what you just heard. What does the director say about bio waste processing?

FR: First of all, in the revision of legislation, what they said is bio waste has to be separately collected. Therefore, it does not make sense that you are separating it and mix it up again with rest of the waste in the same facility and then you burn it. This is completely illogical from any point of view, economical or environmental or whatever.

Secondly what it says is that, member states are not only obliged to separately collect bio waste but with this bio waste, they have to take the measures to encourage in recycling, composting or digestion of bio waste.

CD: Ok, that’s all we need, really. And when will that law be put in place?

FR: EU law needs like two years to translate in to an international law. So by mid 2019 or something like that, they probably will have it translated into international law, which will start creating obligations. But the most important thing is not when the obligation starts, but there’s a clear direction, and the commission is giving a clear direction, that this is the only way forward.

So the municipalities know it already, the regions know it already and the countries know it already. So there’s no point on just trying to push back. This is the only way forward. And sooner or later they will have to start shifting and start transitioning.

CD: Ferran, thank you so much for being with us, I am sure it’s not the last time we talk about this.

FR: Thank you Camille.

CD: Thank you. Speak to you soon.

FR: bye bye!

CD: bye.

CD: After all this pyrotechnics, we should listen to a bit of Rammstein to freshen up.




CD: In chapter one we talked about all the compost or other organic amendments we need to produce to repair our soils, and one feedstock we need to start transforming more seriously is bio waste – whether it is garden waste or kitchen organic waste.

– Some people think that we are nuts. Whatever.

– Me, I collect food scraps from restaurants. Manure from zoos. Manure. Do you know why?

– To keep those staff out of landfills and use it. To make rich good dirt, that’s why.

– Yeah, look, it’s pretty simple. You work hard, you believe that anything is possible and you try to make the world better, you try. As for helping the city grows good green healthy vegetables, that’s the upside of giving a damn!

CD: And I hear the Swedish side of the audience that tells me: “Yes… but you know, we are already collecting and digesting some bio-waste already for biogas production”.
Yes, it’s true but those efforts are driven by energy markets, not by nutrients, not by carbon sequestration.

For those of you who don’t know the basics of anaerobic digestion, here’s how it works:

– you take you bio-waste stream
– you put it in a sealed digester – air tight (which is why it is called anaerobic digestion).
– in absence of oxygen, microorganisms are going to break down biodegradable material.
– it releases carbon dioxide & methane, which we capture and burn to create biogas.
Basically it’s what happens in the stomach of a cow. Except that the methane doesn’t get burnt in that case…

Now what is left over in our digester in the end is called ‘digestate’. It’s a stable, nutrient-rich substance. We’ve taken up what we call the quick carbon in the Anaerobic digestion process and now we’re left with the slow carbon, all the Ligno-Cellulose they call it, and the nitrogen of course.

Dan Noble (DN): The nitrogen stays in the digestate.

CD: you remember Dan Noble, our expert from California?

DN: So, now it can become itself a fertilizer, but it is also an organic fertilizer meaning that it has a lot of organic carbon in it. Now it is not composted but it can be used as compost feedstock. I know that other folks are turning it into a bio-char and other that are palletizing it and turning it into palletized fertilizer pallet, which actually has a lot of carbon in it.

CD: Ok so this is really what interests us in order to create healthy soils. And in most cases, we’re not leveraging this digestate properly because it either ends up in an incinerator, or it’s too contaminated to be used on the farm land, And we’ll talk about this.

Sometimes just the liquid fraction is used and sprayed over the fields. Still a lot of work needs to be done here, because this digestate could be really great stuff.

DN: Organic fertiliser tends to have a lot of carbon and they can also have nitrogen in different forms. The nitrogen may not be in an organic form like urea or nitrates but it could be in protein form itself which is the way of course the microbes and the plants are made with protein.

So the nitrogen as a protein in an amino acid form…amino acid has not been studied that much. I have asked a lot of agronomists and most of them don’t know. The data is not just there.

CD: I feel we need to decide. If we start to seriously sell compost or other organic amendments in Scandinavia – do we sell it for its fertiliser value?
Or for the cheapest disposal option for their rate payers?

DN: The other one, which is much more new and complicated is “What is the market for closing the loop?” because if you are closing the loop, you are now entering into a whole new market world, which didn’t exist in the past. So we have no reference points for that closed loop market.

CD: Yeah and then people tell you, “Oh but it’s not economically feasible to compost and distribute this product.”

DN: Exactly. And then they will tell you know, the person who has been taking waste model, the linear economy, will tell you straight to your face -and they will be honest and they will totally believe this – that it is not economic to go organic or to close the loop.

But yes, it is not economic in old technique waste system because that’s heavily subsidized and we are paying for all that waste disposal and we are paying for all the environmental damages, but we are paying those socially and environmentally. We are not paying for those individually.

So, those are all the things about externalizing the cost and internalizing the value. As apposed to internalizing the cost and internalizing the value but also taking account into social and environmental value of the entire close loop process. Our economist does not handle there right now. So we are in the midst the of changing economic system which means we are in the midst of changing value system for our enterprises, be they public or private.

CD: I love this. This is so fundamental Dan, thanks for making this point. And I think we’re ready to start debating with our regional experts now and we’re going to talk about how we’re going to advance all this.

Dan, thank you so much for all your help across this ‘quest for carbon’, we’ll keep you posted on what we find out, stay well…

DN: Thank you Camille and same for you. It’s always a pleasure.

CD: Ok, I think in the first and second chapter, we’re done setting the stage. You remember in the intro of the first episode I told you we had 2 problems that could solve each other? Well here they are…

On one hand we need to feed our farm lands with carbon, on the other hand the EU is telling us to stop burning bio-waste, which is a major feedstock for a renewable carbon industry. So, there you go.

I think we’re ready to start debating “how are we going to fix this?” with our guest experts – from the region this time.

That will be in the next episodes, coming soon on the Green Exchange,, Keep up the good work … in the mean time.


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